Breaking down silos

If you’ve ever worked for a large corporate I’m sure you are aware of the inefficiencies that come with being big. More people, more buildings, more products. Each with their nuances and problems. Though one common thread of inefficiency (especially in the software world) is the existence of silos.

Silos describe the isolation that occurs when employees or entire departments do not have adequate means to share information.

Teams that don’t speak to other teams, Team members that don’t communicate effectively - or at all and product teams which don’t collaborate with business teams. These are all glaring examples of the problem that is silos.

The existence of this solitary phenomenon is a byproduct of bad culture and signals the loss of the social factor of doing business. We have formed a culture where “busy” is pedestal'd. When you picture someone working in a silo you probably imagine somebody who is hyper-focused, they are head down, consumed by their work and extremely ‘busy’. 

But, busy is good, right? Wrong. Segmentation hurts business productivity. But we are blinded by proxy metrics that value output over outcome. We compare busyness to high output and we have no way to measure anything is broken. 

We are on a sinking boat spending money on buckets and people to bail out the water. Having retros and stand-ups, discussing how great it is that we are so busy moving our “bail out the water” tasks from ‘todo’ to ‘in progress’. Meanwhile, nobody has suggested fixing the leak. Nobody is even aware of the leak.

People like patterns and culture is just social patterns.

We cannot begin the work to break down these silos without addressing the underlying issue. We need a map that sets the lay of the land and buy-in from the big boys with the cheque books.

We can all agree that there is a huge amount of value being lost by bad communication and the existence of silos. We need to shine the light on these silos. It will be good for real productivity but more importantly the bottom line.

We need to replace subject matter experts (SME) (which I’m pretty sure is a synonym for silo) with enablement teams and knowledge sharing guilds. This will not only result in up-skilling of the wider team but also it de-risks that fortuneteller SME walking out the door. 

87% of knowledge is lost after the third handoff. 

Before our SME Rick leaves he’ll do a knowledge transfer to John. John will then tell Steve, Steve will share this with Brian and Brian hasn’t got a clue what’s going on but he’ll nod agreeing while Steve talks. In short, our current knowledge sharing strategy is comparable to Chinese whispers.

Enablement teams are lean teams with the objective and ability to shine the light on isolated teams. Leading the way out of the dark. They empower teams by giving them knowledge but more importantly ownership.

Inner sourcing is another approach to breaking down silos. Open source has been powered by good communication and collaboration since its inception. Inner sourcing enables teams to share problems and more importantly solutions. People stop working on the beta version of the same solution and instead help to mature one.

Silos aren’t something that is going to disappear overnight. But they are a problem that needs to be tackled top-down and bottom-up. Eliminating silos is the true key to business productivity.